illustrator: Felipe Ugalde Alcántara
English translator: Gabriela Baeza Ventura
Nahuat translators: Jorge Tetl Argueta, with Genaro Ramirez, María de la Paz Pérez and Paula López
Piñata Books / Arte Público Press, 2017
Pipil Nahua, Salvadoran
In just about every Indigenous culture and language, there is a millennia-old teaching: Water Is Life. Wherever and whenever this teaching is spoken or sung, youngest children learn that, without water, no living thing can exist.
Narrated by a bead of water, a tiny drop who likes to be called “Agüita” or “Achichipiga,” or “Little Water,” this exquisite story of life begins deep in Mother Earth, where una gotita emerges singing. Drop by drop, as she grows, la gotita, passing through roots and rocks, traveling through light and darkness, climbs to the surface. Here, she rests “by hanging / on the tips of leaves, / on spider webs / or on flower petals.” During her journey, the little drop transforms into Agüita, “a sigh of morning dew,” “a sweet, tender and strong song.” She transforms into a river, a lake, an ocean, and climbs to the sky, becoming a cloud and, ultimately, as rain, returns to Mother Earth. And throughout her journey, throughout her many changes, she remains indescribable: “Soy de todos los colores / y no tengo color. / Soy de todos los sabores / y no tengo sabor. / Soy de todas las formas / y no tengo forma. / Soy Agua, / soy Agüita.”
Listen: Can you hear Agüita singing? Water is Life. All life is sentient. All life is a circle. We are all related.
Ugalde Alcántara’s gorgeous, stylized full-page illustrations, using watercolor and acrylic on paper and then finished digitally, complement Agüita’s song. On a luminous jewel-toned palette of mostly cool blues and greens, and sometimes warm reds, oranges and golds, the artist vibrantly depicts the many colors and shapes of little water. As one becomes many, Gotita / Agüita shows herself as part of everything that is: a blue rivulet cascading out of clouds and purple mountains through a green expanse, a blue-green river washing over brown rocks, white drops falling from clouds onto bluish land, and, as part of a waterfall, she provides a life-giving drink in a blue-white pond.
Argueta’s poem in Spanish and Nahuat, together with Baeza Ventura’s translation into English, flow with grace and beauty.
It’s unfortunate that the Nahuat version—Argueta’s first language and the language of the Pipil Nahua, Indigenous people of El Salvador and Mexico—is relegated to one double-page spread at the end with no accompanying illustration. As well, the Nahuat title, At Achichipiga At, is absent from both the CIP data and the cover (which has, instead, a small line at the bottom that reads, “Includes a Nahuat version”); and it’s shown, only in very small type, on the title page. The book design could easily have accommodated the Nahuat version, and, inasmuch as this poem / song is a First Nations’ teaching, placing it in the primary spot would have empowered Indigenous young children to see an Indigenous language on par with two colonial languages.
It’s also unfortunate that the cover illustration, which focuses on a deer drinking from a pond, diverts the attention of young readers from Agüita herself.
Nevertheless, for the great beauty and teaching that it encompasses, Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water / At Achichipiga At is highly recommended.